Chapter 14




THE NEWS-RECORD GETS A NEW EDITOR.


A few minutes after leaving Marian that last night at Mrs. Carnarvon's, Howard was deep in a mood of self-contempt. He felt that he had faced the crisis like a coward. He despised the weakness which enfeebled him for effort to win her and at the same time made it impossible for him to thrust her from his mind.

In the working hours his will conquered with the aid of fixed habit and he was able to concentrate upon his editorials. But in his rooms, and especially after the lights were out, his imagination became master, deprived him of sleep and occasionally lifted him to a height of hope in order that it might dash him down the more cruelly upon the rocks of fact.

At last he was forced to face the situation--in his own evasive fashion. It was impossible to go back. That loneliness which often threatened him after Alice's death had become the permanent condition of his life. "I will work for her," he said. "Until I have made a place for her I dare not claim her. So much I will concede to my weakness. But when I have won a position which reasonably assures the future, I shall claim her--no matter what has happened in the meanwhile."

He would have smiled at this wild resolution had he been in a less distracted state of mind or had he been dealing with any other than a matter of love. But in the circumstances it gave him heart and set him to work with an energy and effectiveness which still further increased Mr. Malcolm's esteem for him.

"Will you dine with me at the Union Club on Wednesday?" Mr. Malcolm asked one morning in mid-February. "Mr. Coulter and Mr. Stokely are coming. I want you to know them better."

Howard accepted and wondered that he took so little interest. For Stokely and Coulter were the principal stockholders of the News-Record, and with Malcolm formed the triumvirate which directed it in all its departments. Mr. Malcolm held only a few shares of stock, but received what was in the newspaper-world an immense salary--thirty thousand a year. He was at once an able editor and an able diplomatist. He knew how to make the plans of his two associates conform to conditions of news and policy--when to let them use the paper, or, rather, when to use the paper himself for their personal interests; when and how to induce them to let the paper alone. Through a quarter of a century of changing ownerships Malcolm had persisted, chiefly because he had but one conviction--that the post of editor of the News-Record exactly suited him and must remain his at any sacrifice of personal character.

Howard had met Stokely and Coulter. He liked Stokely who was owner of a few shares more than one-third; he disliked Coulter who owned just under one-half.

Stokely was a frank, coarse, dollar-hunter, cheerfully unscrupulous in a large way, acute, caring not at all for principles of any kind, letting the paper alone most of the time because he was astute enough to know that in his ignorance of journalism he would surely injure it as a property.

Coulter was a hypocrite and a snob. Also he fancied he knew how to conduct a newspaper. He was as unscrupulous as Stokely but tried to mask it.

When Stokely wished the News-Record to advocate a "job," or steal, or the election of some disreputable who would work in his interest, he told Malcolm precisely what he wanted and left the details of the stultification to his experienced adroitness. When Coulter wished to "poison the fountain of publicity," as Malcolm called the paper's departures from honesty and right, he approached the subject by stealth, trying to convince Malcolm that the wrong was not really wrong, but was right unfortunately disguised.

He would take Malcolm into his confidence by slow and roundabout steps, thus multiplying his difficulties in discharging his "duty." If Coulter's son had not been married to Malcolm's daughter, it is probable that not even his complete subserviency would have enabled him to keep his place.

"If you had told me frankly what you wanted in the first place, Mr. Coulter," he said after an exasperating episode in which Coulter's Pharisaic sensitiveness had resulted in Malcolm's having to "flop" the paper both editorially and in its news columns twice in three days, "we would not have made ourselves ridiculous and contemptible. The public is an ass, but it is an ass with a memory at least three days long. Your stealthiness has made the ass bray at us instead of with and for us. And that is dangerous when you consider that running a newspaper is like running a restaurant--you must please your customers every day afresh."

Coulter was further difficult because of his anxieties about social position for himself and his family. He was disturbed whenever the News-Record published an item that might offend any of the people whose acquaintance he had gained with so much difficulty, and for whose good will he was willing to sacrifice even considerable money. Personally, but very privately, he edited the News-Record's "fashionable intelligence" columns on Sunday and made them an exhibit of his own sycophancy and snobbishness which excited the amused disgust of all who were in the secret.

Malcolm liked Howard, admired him, in a way envied his fearlessness, his earnestness for principles. For years he had had it in mind to retire and write a history of the Civil War period which had been his own period of greatest activity and most intimate acquaintance with the behind-the-scenes of statecraft. Howard's energy, steady application, enthusiasm for journalism and intelligence both as to editorials and as to news made Malcolm look upon him as his natural successor.

"I think Howard is the man we want," he said to his two associates when he was arranging the dinner. "He has new ideas--just what the paper needs. He is in touch with these recent developments. And above all he has judgment. He knows what not to print, where and how to print what ought to be printed. He is still young and is over-enthusiastic. He has limitations, but he knows them and he is eager and capable to learn."

It was a "shop" dinner, Howard doing most of the talking, led on by Malcolm. The main point was the "new journalism," as it was called, and how to adapt it to the News-Record and the News-Record to it.

Malcolm kept the conversation closely to news and news-ideas, fearing that, if editorial policies were brought in, Howard would make "breaks." He soon saw that his associates were much impressed with Howard, with his judgment, with his knowledge of the details of every important newspaper in the city, with his analysis of the good and bad points in each.

"I'll drop you at your corner," said he to Howard at the end of the dinner. As they drove up the Avenue he began: "How would you like to be the editor of the News-Record? My place, I mean."

"I don't understand," Howard answered, bewildered.

"I am going to retire at once," Malcolm went on. "I've been at it nearly fifty years--ever since I was a boy of eighteen and I've been in charge there almost a quarter of a century. I think I've earned a few years of leisure to work for my own amusement. I'm pretty sure they'll want you to take my place. Would you like it?"

"I'm not fit for it," Howard said, and he meant it. "I'm only an apprentice. I'm always making blunders--but I needn't tell you about that."

"You can't say that you are not fit until you have tried. Besides, the question is not, are you fit? but, is there any one more fit than you? I confess I don't see any one so well equipped, so certain to give the paper all of the best that there is in him."

"Of course I'd like to try. I can only fail."

"Oh, you won't fail. But you may quarrel with Stokely and Coulter--especially Coulter. In fact, I'm sure you'll quarrel with them. But if you make yourself valuable enough, you'll probably win out. Only----"

Malcolm hesitated, then went on:

"I stopped giving advice years ago. But I'll venture a suggestion. Whenever your principles run counter to the policy of the paper, it would be wise to think the matter over carefully before making an issue. Usually there is truth on both sides, much that can be said fairly and honestly for either side. Often devotion to principle is a mere prejudice. Often the crowd, the mob, can be better controlled to right ends by conceding or seeming to concede a principle for the time. Don't strike a mortal blow at your own usefulness to good causes by making yourself a hasty martyr to some fancied vital principle that will seem of no consequence the next morning but one after the election."

"I know, Mr. Malcolm, judgment is all but impossible. And I have been trying to learn what you have been teaching me with your blue pencil, what you now put into words. But there is something in me--an instinct, perhaps--that forces me on in spite of myself. I've learned to curb and guide it to a certain extent, but as long as I am I, I shall never learn to control it. Every man must work out his own salvation along his own lines. And with my limitations of judgment, it would be fatal to me, I feel, to study the art of compromise. Where another, broader, stronger, more master of himself and of others, would succeed by compromising, I should fail miserably. I should be lost, compassless, rudderless. I have often envied you your calmness, your ability to see not only to-morrow but the day after. But, if I ever try to imitate you, I shall make a sad mess of my career."

As he ended Howard looked uneasily at the old editor, expecting to see that caustic smile with which he preceded and accompanied his sarcasms at "sentimental bosh." But instead, Malcolm's face was melancholy; and his voice was sad and weary as he answered the young man who was just starting where he had started so many years ago:

"No doubt you are right. I'm not intending to try to dissuade you from--from the best there is in you. All I mean is that caution, self-examination, self-doubt, calm consideration of the other side--these are as necessary to success as energy and resolute action. All I suggest is that its splendour does not redeem a splendid folly. Its folly remains its essential characteristic."

Three weeks later Howard became editor-in-chief of the News-Record. His salary was fifteen thousand a year; and Stokely and Coulter, acting upon Malcolm's advice, gave him a "free hand" for one year. They agreed not to interfere during that time unless the circulation or the profits showed a decrease at the end of a quarter.

The next morning Howard, in the Madison Avenue car on his way to the office, read among the "Incidents in Society:"

Mrs. George Alexander Provost and her niece, Miss Marion Trevor, sailed in the Campania yesterday. They will return in July for the Newport season.




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